10 April 2017

When Lena Makunye went into labor to give birth to her second child, she had no idea that she would have to undergo emergency surgery to save her and her baby’s life. “I was in labor for a long time, but the baby was not coming. When I was told I had to go to the operating theatre, I was scared: I had never been through that before. I was in pain and my heart was breaking, but the doctors talked to me and gave me strength. My son was handed to me shortly after.”

At the Mrima Health Centre in Likoni, expectant mothers like Lena now have access to emergency obstetric care. Doctors Without Borders (MSF), together with the Mombasa County Department of Health, has upgraded the facility so that women experiencing complications with their pregnancy can deliver safely and free of charge.

Since January, an operating theatre built from shipping containers means that women in need of caesarean sections can now give birth to their babies closer to home. This is a temporary measure until a permanent building is constructed.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Kenya, Maternity Care
Expectant mothers now have access to lifesaving care in Likoni, Kenya. Photo: 
Yann Libessart/MSF

Prior to January, there was no functional emergency obstetrics facility in Likoni Sub-County, and women who were suffering complications with their deliveries had to be referred to another hospital that could only be reached by ferry. Long waiting times at night meant that the lives of many mothers and babies were being put in danger.

Now, expectant mothers have a better choice, as Mrima has been upgraded to provide emergency obstetric care. “This facility has become a life-saver in the area,” says Josephine Masikini, midwife and Project Coordinator for MSF in Likoni.  “Women can now rest easier knowing that they have the possibility of a safe delivery in case of emergency, assisted by a qualified birth attendant.”

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Kenya, Maternity Care
Long waiting times at night put the lives of many mothers and babies in danger. Photo: Yann Libessart/MSF

Reducing maternal and newborn deaths

While maternal death rates in Kenya have reduced over the last few years, pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications still account for nearly one-fifth of deaths in women of reproductive age.  Around 40% of women are not delivering their babies in a health facility, nor are they assisted by a skilled birth attendant.   

There are also many regions in the country where maternal death rates are much higher than the national average, with health facilities out of reach for many women due to distance or cost

In 2015, an estimated 34,000 babies died in Kenya before they reached one month of age.

Kenya: reducing maternal and newborn deaths
Photo: Yann Libessart/MSF

But with the help of skilled birth attendants, and access to appropriate drugs and equipment, women’s lives and those of their babies can be saved.

“After the extension and refurbishment of the Mrima Health Centre is completed, we are hopeful that the facility will serve as a model of care for counties in Kenya where maternal and neonatal death rates remain high,” continues Masikini. “Starting in 2018,we also plan to  train health workers from other counties, aiming to contribute to reducing the number of deaths of mothers and babies in those areas.”   

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Kenya, Maternity Care
Mrima Heath Centre in Likoni, in the process of rehabilitation and extension. Photo: 
Yann Libessart/MSF

In January and February 2017, there were 737 babies delivered in Mrima Health Centre, including 143 by caesarean section. Medical teams also conducted 2,273 antenatal consultations.
MSF began working in Likoni in February 2016, supporting deliveries and referring women with complications to Coast Provincial General Hospital. Construction of the container operating theatre began in late 2016. It was officially functional on 27 January 2017, when the first baby born by caesarean section arrived.

MSF is also providing medical assistance in other areas of Kenya, including in Nairobi’s’ Eastlands area and in Kibera, where the organisation has worked for the last two decades. Additionally, medical teams are working in Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, Homa Bay County, Ndhiwa sub-County and are also opening a programme for the treatment and management of non-communicable diseases together with Embu County.

View images of Mrima Centre here.

Find out more about MFS's work in Kenya